Thursday, 20 November 2014

The truth about why I resigned and the claims being made against me

Today, the chief executive of Cornwall Council, Andrew Kerr, took the incredible step of issuing a press release trying to force me to resign. I had planned on posting something short to assert my innocence of any wrongdoing. But the nature of the council press statement - which was released without any warning or notification - and Mr Kerr’s tactics in trying to bully me out of office deserve something more.

Here is the truth.
In 2006 (and before I became a councillor) I was one of many people who was arrested when credit or debit card details were found which linked the cardholders to a site containing indecent images of children. I have never viewed any such images nor had I ever visited the site or any others like it. I was able to show the police that my card had been cloned at some time in the past and used illegally for various things including a hotel in Brazil. I reported that at the time and my bank refunded the money. Of course I cannot be sure, but that is how I believe my card details came to be linked to the site as it fits the time my card was used fraudulently. When details are stolen on the internet they tend to come in a package and hackers can also have access to your address, email, password, phone, IP address, etc, which can easily be cloned and used by another person to cover their own identity and make it look like the victim of their fraud is the guilty party. The police searched my computer and other electronic devices I owned. Because I had done nothing wrong, and therefore there was no evidence against me, the police did not bring any charges and they told me the matter was closed.

I cannot blame the police for investigating based on the information they received. The whole episode put me through a huge trauma but I am reassured that they took such matters very seriously and I am glad that they were able to establish my innocence as they did.
In 2009 when I was elected to Cornwall Council my arrest was flagged up in an enhanced CRB check. I discussed this matter with the chief legal officer of the council. He told me that he would discuss it with the (then) leader Councillor Alec Robertson. I heard no more about this from the legal officer, Mr Robertson or anyone else. I assume that they took the view, quite rightly, that the matter was properly dealt with by the police and considered closed.

At some point within the past few weeks someone raised the matter with officers within Cornwall Council’s child protection team. Since then, anonymous letters and emails have been sent to the press and to opposition councillors. There seems to be a concerted campaign against me. Those first emails started a very difficult period in which meetings were held about me without my knowledge or involvement to discuss information and claims which they refuse to share with me. I have repeatedly asked officers for the information they received to be passed on to me so that I can refute it. They refused to do so. That limited information which has been shared with me I know to be untrue and they have not offered any evidence to support their outrageous claims. Given that they refused to share the information they had, I asked officers for time to go through the laborious process of requesting the information from the various organisations concerned which would prove their claims to be wrong. They refused to give me this time and convened another secret meeting which passed judgement. They then made deeply libellous and completely untrue statements to organisations, other councillors and the media. Nevertheless, I have started the process (which is likely to take some months) of seeking the information held and then correcting it where it is false. All they have told me is that everything relates to the original investigation in 2006 and that there have been no concerns or claims made about me relating to any time before or since.

It seems that officers are more concerned with covering their own backs than with establishing the truth. They seem to think they know better than the police did back in 2006 when they had all the evidence and were able to conduct a full and thorough investigation. On two occasions, whilst denying me the information on which they based their apparent judgement, Mr Kerr has demanded my resignation.
In the circumstances, in an effort to protect myself, my friends, my family and the council from harm, I chose to resign from the cabinet so that I could focus on proving my innocence. Sadly, the matter has become public, solely because to the actions of the chief executive who has bullied and harassed me and others throughout the process. He has consistently refused to give me or my lawyer the information that is being used to damn me. Nor has he allowed me the time to correct the wrong information held about me. Instead, he is briefing others within the council about the issue - claiming to pass on ‘facts’ which he refuses to share with me. I know the allegations are untrue and I am determined to prove it.

Now he has ordered officers to write to various organisations within Launceston and elsewhere to make claims which are untrue, which are deeply damaging to me and which I have not been given a chance to refute. Quite incredibly, he then chose to press release the fact that he had done so. As I have stated above, the police looked into these matters fully and did not find evidence to charge me because I had never done anything wrong. 

The lesson from this episode seems to be two-fold:
  • It does not matter if you are wholly innocent of any crime. An accusation based the fraudulent use of stolen bank details can nevertheless ruin your entire life.
  • Senior officers within Cornwall Council have no concept of natural justice and can force an elected politician out of his job through a kangaroo court.
I remain hugely grateful to everyone who has sent me kind messages, both since I stepped down from the cabinet and since this news broke. I intend continue to work my hardest for the people of Launceston and for Cornwall as a whole. 

In the circumstances, I have invited my party, the Liberal Democrats, to look into the matter under its own disciplinary processes. I have voluntarily suspended my membership of the party and the whip on the council for the duration of this process.
At the same time, I will be taking a leave of absence from the council for a few weeks in order to be able to obtain and correct the misinformation held on me, and whilst the party investigation is undertaken. I am grateful to my colleagues for their support which allows me to do this, and local people can be reassured that all casework and other inquiries will be properly and quickly dealt with.

But Cornwall Council needs to take a serious look at the person in charge. Mr Kerr is a tiny crumb of a human being. He is a bully who decided straight away that, despite the fact I had done nothing wrong, I needed to be forced out. He presided over the kangaroo court which passed judgement against me having refused to even allow me to see any evidence. When I refused his demands to resign from the council he came up with a scheme to bring this matter to public attention through the letters to local sports clubs and his press release today.

So here are some questions for the council:
  • Why, when the council knew all about my arrest - and the fact the police took no further action against me - back in 2009, did they then do nothing at all until the past few weeks? Where does that leave the chief legal officer, Richard Williams? Sadly for Mr Williams, given that he understands the law and justice, I suspect that Mr Kerr will be bullying him out of a job soon too.
  • Why does the council refuse to give me access to any of the claims, evidence, or information laid against me so that I can offer a proper defence?
  • Why did the council take the extraordinary step of writing to local organisations claiming that I am a danger of children when I have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any wrongdoing?
  • Why was Mr Kerr allowed to press release this matter without any warning, putting me and others in danger of some sort of vigilante action given the incredibly partial and untrue statements given to the press?


17 comments:

Paolo Lattuca said...

You should use all options available to you now to show how Mr Kerr has brought his office into disrepute. From launching an injunction to stop the council from making any further such claims to bringing an harassment claim along with making a formal complaint with the police under the Protection from Harassment Act (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1997/40/contents)

I hope you find a speedy solution to this.

Caron Lindsay said...

Alex,

What I have most difficulty with is that if the Chief Executive thought he had actual evidence against you, he should have contacted the Police and got them to investigate rather than take it upon himself to make a judgement.

I am sure that there will be many across the country who want to help you fight what has happened.

Mike Sadler said...

Thanks for sharing your perspective, which should clear up the wild speculation that is, no doubt, in full flow.

I can understand why you originally chose to deal with this privately, but it is clear that you have been left no alternative because of the abhorrent actions of the Council, led by Mr. Kerr.

I understand the need to safeguard children, but this is simply an outrage - you weren't even charged! The investigating team have done their job - it is heartening to hear that they take these matters seriously - and you remain innocent not guilty. What grounds, then, does Mr Kerr have to genuinely believe that you are a threat to society, unable to continue to fulfil your useful role in our community as a councillor.

My initial reaction is outrage at the injustice, and the disgust at the bullying behaviour of the council.

Then, on further reflection, I am amazed at the lack of insight and empathy that your colleagues have displayed - could they not imagine how they would feel, for example, if they were falsely accused of inappropriate behaviour? What if someone makes a complaint against Mr Kerr, suggesting he abused his position to act inappropriately, that was investigated and found to be false? He would be in the same situation as you - would he be so quick to resign?

I'm sad that you find yourself in this ridiculous situation - it's such a highly charged topic (rightly so) that is going to follow you for some time. I hope that you can get some resolution on this, and not let this be the defining moment of the rest of your life.

Sue Doughty said...

I am shocked that council officers are continuing to think that they, and not the police are best to deal with such allegations. I have dealt with two cases in the past, one where the police were certain that the allegations were false and malicious and yet the council officers demanded that this go to court. In the end the council spent around £1m on costs, appeals etc to no end on the case and appeals, even though the judge told them it shouldn't have gone to court. In the second, the abuse almost certainly took place, the police were happy to prosecute but social services backed off as they judged that the child could attend another Sunday School at a different church from the accused person. We all abhor what has been done to cover up abuse and the need to be much more vigilant but meanwhile, councils are very sadly out of their depth.

This is devasting for you and I hope it can be resolved quickly.

Nursery saver said...

It is wrong that an arrest becomes a permanent feature.
A conviction, yes, but getting arrested doesn't mean guilt.

David Evans said...

If you need help, support or money to help you fight back against this man, just contact me. Others can doubtless offer real expertise and guidance. Lib Dems across the country can and will stand together on this.

David said...

What a nest of vipers County Hall has become, this expensive hireling Chief Executive Kerr has overstepped his position and has to be removed. Perhaps that other expensive failure Kevin Lavery has a job for him in New Zealand.

John Carchrie Campbell said...

I am absolutely disgusted with the actions of the Council's officers in this regard. As others have said, there are legal options for you to consider to stop this continued harassment. It seems to me that the letters sent are libelling you. This is most unfair.

My thoughts are with you, I wish I could do more to help. Keep up the good work for the people of Launceston. I must visit it again soon.

Stuart Munnery said...

Surely they cannot do this Mr Folkes,unfortunately I know myself exactly how nasty councils can get when you end up on the wrong side of them.This must be slanderous / libellous ;I hope you take immediate legal redress on the matter,good luck.

Jon Sacker said...

Alex,

Please let us know what we can do to help you.

Jon Sacker

Andy Castor said...

Good luck with this - and when you have won, please take a while to consider all the lives that have been destroyed by high handed local officials, for there are many.

Denise Thornton said...

I have personally had experience of how the Council works re "investigations" and the way the Council handles them (ex Council employee) and I feel for you

Carol Swain said...

I despair at the fact that a well-respected elected official such as yourself can be hounded out by someone who is a mere (if very senior) employee, solely on the basis of hearsay and without any opportunity to defend himself. What has happened in Cornwall to the principle of "innocent until proven guilty"?
Maybe Mr Kerr wanted you out because you were doing far too good a job for his peace of mind.....?

Tony Dawson said...

I trust that you will be making a formal complaint both to the Information Commissioner and the Local Government Ombudsman. The County Council (or any of its officers) has no right to either hold or disseminate false personal data about you. The Chief Executive has no right to take any action against you without having performed 'due diligence' and appropriate processes. Being accused of something does not in any way preclude you from fulfilling your duties as councillor.

Ken Kernow said...

I hope you have appointed a good lawyer and will claim significant damages against this excuse of a council. Sadly in this so called democratic society we cannot sack people such as Mr Kerr. Roll on the day we have a new council that we can trust.

The overpaid execs have not been removed from office, they just create new Companies such as Cormac and the airport where the chief execs are still paid too much.

Is it ever reported that the Directors remumeration at Cormac, went up from £291,000 in 2013 to £356,000 in 2014, a rise of 22% as published in the annual accounts.

Keep up the fight, you have our support.

Gerard Hever said...

Alex,

So sorry to hear what these elected 'criminals' can do to destroy peoples lives on a whim.

I hope that truth will prevail and these, at best incompetent, officials get their own 'justice' as a result of their disgraceful and unjustifiable actions

Alex Folkes said...

Hi Gerry,
Thanks for your kind message.
Best wishes
Alex